Mythbusting: Microchipping And Positive Horse ID

Nov 25, 2015 - 3:30 AM
Microchips are implanted into a horse’s nuchal ligament, which is just below the mane and about halfway between the poll and withers on the left side, and they cannot be easily removed. Photo by Arnd Bronkhorst

The author shares what the USEF Horse Recording & ID Task Force Committee has learned in relation to common misconceptions about microchipping.

One of the most controversial topics in the horse industry recently has been microchipping and positive horse identification. With new U.S. Equestrian Federation rule change proposals requiring microchipping and identification documents for horses competing in age, experience or breed restricted classes up for discussion and vote at the annual meetings this year, many myths are circulating on the subject.

But what are the facts? And what would implementation of these rules mean for the general public? Let the mythbusting begin!

Myth 1: Microchips are expensive.

International Standard Organization microchips are now available from the microchip companies for as little as $5 to $8 per chip. These are also Fédération Equestre Internationale compliant chips.

After polling facilities ranging from Hagyard Equine Medical (Ky.), Palm Beach Equine (Fla.), and Rood & Riddle (Ky.) to local veterinarians and clinics, we found that insertion of microchips by a veterinarian ranges from $35-$60, which most often includes the microchip. This one-time fee should be valid for the life of the horse.

Horses that are imported from the European Union already have a microchip because it is legally required. There are also American breed registries, such as the Rheinland Pfalz-Saar International and Oldenburg Horse Breeders Society, which require all horses registered with their organization here in the States to be microchipped.

Starting Jan. 1, 2017, The Jockey Club will also be requiring all foals to be microchipped.

Myth 2: Microchips can be removed easily.

Microchips are implanted into a horse’s nuchal ligament, which is just below the mane and about halfway between the poll and withers on the left side. According to a well-known microchip company, MicrochipID, “It cannot be removed without general anesthesia and surgery.”

When we asked top U.S. veterinary clinics about removal of microchips, the answers included, “We do not remove microchips because it would be very harmful to the horse since they are implanted into the nuchal ligament. It would be a deep invasive surgery. They are the size of a grain of rice, so very tiny to try to locate even if surgery was attempted.”

Another response was, “We have never heard of anyone asking to remove a chip.”

Contrary to what some believe, a microchip cannot be removed easily from a horse. It would require surgery with general anesthesia and leave a scar.

Myth 3: Chips can be changed or erased.

The ISO microchips are read-only chips. This means that they only provide the identification number when scanned, and no additional information about the horse is stored on the microchip.

They cannot be changed or erased with a magnet or powerful electricity. They do not have a power supply, battery or moving parts and are guaranteed for the life of the horse. For more information, visit avidid.com or microchipidequine.com.

Myth 4: Microchips migrate.

When properly implanted, microchips in the nuchal ligament do not migrate. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (2003 223:1316-1319), “microchips implanted in the nuchal ligament did not migrate.”

The origin of this myth can be traced back to the early days of microchipping. In trying to create a microchip that wouldn’t be rejected or considered a foreign body, a microchip was created out of materials that were so biocompatible to a horse’s body that they could travel through tissue. That was also during a time when the original injection site was under the skin in the triangle area on the side of the neck that veterinarians commonly use as an injection site.

However, when the injection site was changed from under the skin on the side to the nuchal ligament, the new standardized site stopped migration due to the density of the tissue in the nuchal ligament.

According to one of the U.S. manufacturers of microchips, AVID (American Veterinary Identification Device), “when the microchip is properly implanted a small layer of connective tissue forms around the microchip, preventing it from moving.”

Thus, the mysterious rumor of microchips migrating has been laid to rest.

Myth 5: Microchipping violates horse welfare.

A microchip is a tiny computer chip that is approximately the size of a grain of rice and is small enough to fit into a hypodermic needle similar to that used in normal injections and vaccinations. It is a simple injection that only takes a few seconds and is done without sedation. Most horses do not even show a response as the chip is quickly injected into the nuchal ligament, and the horse feels nothing when the microchip is scanned.

Microchipping is extremely beneficial in many equine welfare areas. It is less painful and more effective than branding or tattooing. The tattooing procedure can be very uncomfortable, fade with time and be altered, and hot branding elicits a pain response in horses and is followed with local inflammation and increased skin sensitivity for one week.

Other benefits also include, but are not limited to: disaster recovery, deterrence of theft, aiding in recovery of stolen horses and monitoring of horse slaughter.

Did you know that the Equine Rescue Network has an ever-growing nationwide network of 215,000-plus people, including volunteers, who scan horses at auctions and kill pens? According to equinerescuenetwork.com, “If a slaughter-bound horse is found with a microchip or tattoo, ERN is able to notify previous owners. Understandably, no one wants to get a call that a previously owned horse is about to ship to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. Yet ERN has found that 85 percent of the time, the previous owners welcome the call and are happy to help, even if as a means to humanely euthanize the horse.”

This means that when a horse is microchipped, horse owners can have peace of mind that should a horse they previously owned end up in a situation where they are suffering (as recently seen in Virginia) or bound for slaughter, there would be a way for the horse’s origin to be traced and former owners contacted. Therefore, microchipping adds an extra level of protection when it comes to equine welfare and is endorsed by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Myth 6: Microchipping causes cancer.

The basis of any claims that microchips cause cancer should be explained. Many strains of mice used in laboratory tests are prone to developing cancer, which is interesting to the laboratory for research purposes. In some of these mice with an implanted microchip, a tumor was formed.

However, the microchips were implanted for identification purposes in animals used for ongoing carcinogen and oncogenicity (capability of inducing tumor formation) cancer studies. So the mice in this study were being subjected to carcinogenic substances to test tumor formation as a result of the carcinogenic substances. In addition, the microchips implanted in those lab animals were not the same as the microchips that are implanted into horses or companion pets.

The British Small Animal Veterinary Association reported that over 13 years, out of the 3.7 million pets that were microchipped in the United Kingdom, there were only two tumors reported. This would mean in that sample group, there would be a 0.000054 percent chance of tumor formation. That is not a significant enough statistic, and, taking into consideration all the outlying factors involved in the other case studies, claims cannot be made that microchips directly cause cancer.

You can find more information from the American Veterinary Medical Association at tiny.cc/AVMAmicrochipping.

Myth 7: Microchips can track location or movement.

ISO microchips are read-only chips and do not contain a GPS. There is no way for it to track movement. It only serves as an identification number. See Myth 3.

Myth 8: The new USEF rule change proposal will require all horses to be microchipped.

No. Only horses that will be registered with USEF after Dec. 1, 2017 and who will be competing in age, experience, or breed restricted classes would need to be microchipped. This means that horses currently registered with USEF/USHJA and not competing in those restricted classes would be grandfathered in and would not need to be microchipped.

To provide an example: the 14-year-old children’s hunter or 12-year-old junior/amateur-owner jumper would not need to be microchipped.

As stated before, horses imported from the EU already have a microchip. There are also many U.S. breeders who microchip their horses. So there is a chance your horse already contains a microchip, and it should be scanned first before a new microchip is implanted. When a microchip is found to already be implanted, all that would be needed is for the owner to provide that microchip number to USEF/USHJA at no additional cost.

Myth 9: Microchipping is a way for USEF/USHJA to make money.

Definitely not. Microchipping expenses are paid directly to the veterinarian and/or microchip company. In some cases it is included in the cost of foal registration with breed registries. See Myth 1.

Myth 10: Microchips are a way for USEF/USHJA to track personal information including the purchase price of a horse.

Absolutely false. In the current system, when making an ownership transfer, the Bill of Sale must be provided to make the transfer with USHJA and USEF (when the USEF Lifetime Horse Recording Certificate is not available). Horse sale prices are not recorded with the USEF or USHJA. These are private agreements made between two parties. Nowhere in the world are private sales prices recorded with any breed or competition organization, and microchipping would not change the current recording system here in the United States.

Microchips only contain an identifying number (See Myth 3) and serve as a way to physically link the horse to the registration/competition records. It also serves as a way for veterinarians or transportation companies to validate identity to ensure that they have the right horse when treating or transporting. The only data that could be connected is information that is already public record, such as the chain of ownership and breeding/competition results for the entire life of the horse, which in turn, creates transparency.

Myth 11: There will be an annual charge for keeping microchip info “current.”

No. Just as there is no additional charge for keeping other identification information current, so there will be no additional charge to keep microchip information current with USEF/USHJA. It will only need to be provided so it can be kept on file and attached to the horse’s registration information for positive identification purposes.

Myth 12: The new USEF/USHJA rule change will require stewards to buy a microchip scanner.

Stewards will not be required to buy scanners. Scanning microchips for positive horse identification will be carried out by the veterinarian at the competition and will not require horse shows or stewards to purchase microchip scanners.

Myth 13: It costs more than $150 to positively ID and microchip a horse.

As stated before, implantation of microchips is a one-time cost of $35-60, which often includes the microchip. (See Myth 1)

Also, starting in January 2016, the Anglo European Studbook will be able to issue “white paper” horse identification passports complete with a UELN, microchip, and DNA testing for $99, even for horses with no documented pedigree in the United States. The owner’s veterinarian must fill out an identification form, complete with drawings and written description of the horse and the veterinarian’s signature similar to a Coggins or FEI passport application. At the same time, hairs for DNA will be pulled and microchip implanted. DNA testing will be done through UC Davis, and microchips will be from an American microchip company.

The purpose of this type of passport is to provide an affordable way for horses whose pedigree is unknown to be positively identified for the rest of their lives through a universal equine life number attached to a microchip number and supported with DNA results. Identities of horses with a brand or microchip can be traced back to the original birth registry without additional expense, and duplicate papers can be arranged.

Myth 14: There is no central database.

There is no central database for microchips in companion animals. However, microchip numbers are tracked differently in the equine industry. The microchip implanted in a horse is attached to the breed registration number and/or competition number and can be found in the respective databases, which also means in the rare case that more than one microchip is found in a horse, it will trace back to a registration number connected to breeding or competition results in that country, thus reducing the gap in horse identification. Organizations such as the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses and the FEI, along with numerous countries, are currently working to collaborate and create a universal database in the very near future.

•••

Microchipping for horses has been used successfully in Europe since 2006 to monitor horse welfare, protect against theft, prevent fraud, track competition eligibility, and for tracing in the event of a disease outbreak. It is a safe, reliable, less painful way to provide permanent, unchangeable positive identification.

Here in America, we have all the systems in place needed for a seamless implementation. The USEF already has an area on the registration form for microchip numbers, and horse records can be searched via microchip number. Veterinary clinics, ranging from large to small local practices, have microchip scanners and the ability to implant chips.

Breed registries already microchip or can provide the option of attaching a microchip number to a registration number. Regardless of whether the horse is positively identified and microchipped through a breed registry or microchipped by a veterinarian, when this information is recorded with the competition federation and associations on the registration form, it connects all the dots for positive horse identification.

This protects all involved. The owner has assurance that the horse he is purchasing is indeed the one he believes it to be. The rider knows the horse’s level of experience, and pedigree information can provide insight to the type of ride or level of talent the horse may possess. The trainer is guaranteed the horse is eligible for classes or divisions defined by age, experience, or breed and protected against points becoming invalid after discovery of unknown previous experience or true age.

And last, but most important, is the horse. Should a horse fall into a situation of neglect or potential slaughter, traceability through a microchip can alert previous owners to the situation and the horse can be given a chance to survive.

And that—is priceless.

SUMMER STOFFEL

Summer Stoffel is the owner of Silver Creek Farms in Broken Arrow, Okla., and has bred horses that are competing both nationally and internationally. In addition to her work with the breed registries and international federations and hosting the North American Stallion Testing, she also serves on the USEF Horse Recording & ID Task Force Committee and USHJA Jumper Breeding Committee.

In the forum, horsemen are invited to express their views and offer constructive criticism on any topic relevant to working with and enjoying horses. The opinions expressed by the writers are entirely their own and not necessarily those of The Chronicle of the Horse.

This article appears in the Nov. 23 & 30 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, which is the annual Foxhunting Issue and also includes stories on how a new hunt in Montana is bringing cowboy to foxhunting, a look at where foxhounds go to retire, and so much more. CLICK to see what else is in this issue.

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